When was the last time the Tampa Bay Buccaneers played in a meaningful game? In 2016 during the five game winning streak, Josh Freeman’s 10-6 season, the last playoff game in 2008?
Whatever your answer, you have to admit this is the first meaningful game the Buccaneers have played in a long time. Sure they’ve played in a few “must-win” contests, but were they really meaningful?
This game on Sunday Night Football will likely decide the fate of the NFC South. Will the Buccaneers rise up to the challenge?
Stop What Isn’t Working
I know I sound like a broken record on twitter every week, but damn Byron Leftwich, I’ve had enough with ineffective first down runs. I get it if it’s working, like we saw against the Chargers or Packers, but when it doesn’t work, you only put your offense in a terrible position.
On first down plays outside of two minute drills against the New York Giants, the Buccaneers ran the ball 50% of the time. That is inexcusable when you have Tom Brady, Mike Evans, Rob Gronkowski, and Scotty Miller.
That number should be close to 30%, especially when you look at first down passing efficiency.
The Buccaneers are incredibly efficient when using the play action pass on first down instead. You don’t have to take my word for it though, and if you’re still not convinced, here’s a really good article by Josh Hermsmeyer of fivethirtyeight that breaks it all down. If you like statistics, this is the read for you.
The moral of the story, stop banging your head into a wall on first down, and give your offense a fighting chance early in the game.
Short Pass Sell Out
We all know that Drew Brees can’t throw the football deep any longer. He actually ranks 29th in completed air yards per completion, at five yards…
The matchup problem that arises is the inability to blitz against Brees. You just can’t do it effectively. Sean Payton is a master at scheming Alvin Kamara into space, and punishing teams that dare try it. So how do you stop the Saints?
Sell out to stopping the short pass.
I would play a ton of cover one, forcing Brees to push the ball down the field. Put your linebackers and corners in the flats, and stop Kamara from gaining any steam. If Brees all of a sudden burns you deep, than fine, but I doubt he still has the arm strength.
I worry about this defense matchup for the Buccaneers. They NEED to get pressure with four, or Brees will pick you apart. Devin White should be able to lock down Kamara, but a Michael Thomas return spells some trouble.
Carlton Davis should be able to lock him down as usual, but he can’t do it forever.
No Ali No Problem
If you haven’t heard by now, left guard Ali Marpet suffered a concussion in Monday’s win over the Giants. Unfortunately, he has been ruled out for Sunday’s game, which is a real concern if you look at the left side of the line.
Free agent acquisition Joe Haeg will slot in as replacement, and will likely get attacked early by a stout defense line for New Orleans. Bruce Arians is going to need to shift protection left, and use a tight end or extra lineman to aid in pass protection.
Haeg should be able to handle his own, but if he can’t, Donovan Smith can help with a double team, while Gronkowski takes care of the edge defender. Not ideal, but you have to work with what you are given.
This is one the biggest games in a decade for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. A win would put Tampa Bay firmly in the drivers seat to win an NFC South title. Can Tom Brady and company get the job done in front of a national audience.